Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education

I have been skeptical of bilingual education for many years. The fact is that language learning is best done by total immersion. Generations of immigrants to America went into English only classrooms, and did well. One of my wife's English professors spoke only Yiddish until he was ten years old--and then went into an English only classroom in New York City. Somehow, in spite of the supposed damage done to his self-esteem and language skills, he ended up with a Ph.D. in English.

Heather McDonald has an article in the Autumn, 2009
City Journal that points out what many of us have long suspected: the goal of bilingual education was never to benefit Hispanic immigrants:

The counterintuitive linguistic claims behind bilingual education were always a fig leaf covering a political agenda. The 1960s Chicano rights movement (“Chicano” refers to Mexican-Americans) asserted that the American tradition of assimilation was destroying not just Mexican-American identity but also Mexican-American students’ capacity to learn. Teaching these students in English rather than in Spanish hurt their self-esteem and pride in their culture, Chicano activists alleged: hence the high drop-out rates, poor academic performance, and gang involvement that characterized so many Mexican-American students in the Southwest. Manuel Ramirez III, currently a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that bilingual education was necessary to ensure “the academic survival of Chicano children and the political and economic strength of the Chicano community.” The role of American schools, according to this nascent ideology, became the preservation of the Spanish language and Mexican culture for Mexican-origin U.S. residents.

Most importantly, however, are the results:

The bureaucratic resistance wasn’t able to suppress the good news, however. In Los Angeles, young Hispanic pupils placed in immersion were absorbing spoken English far more quickly than expected and were starting to read and write in English as well, their teachers told the Los Angeles Times. The Oceanside school district, on the Pacific coast north of San Diego, became the emblem for the new English immersion. Superintendent Kenneth Noonan, a former bilingual teacher himself and cofounder of the California Association of Bilingual Education, had opposed Prop. 227, but once it passed, he determined that Oceanside would follow the law to the letter. He applied the criteria for granting bilingual waivers strictly and ended up creating no Spanish-taught classes. He then sat back with considerable trepidation and waited. “Trained bilingual teachers started calling me,” he says. “‘You’ve got to see what’s happening down here,’ they said. I thought: ‘I guess it’s true, the sky has fallen.’ ” But when Noonan visited their classrooms, he found that these new converts to immersion were “glowing with a sense of success.”

I'm always impressed how much support remains among leftwing teachers that I know for bilingual systems--and I get the impression that it is as much about showing their disapproval of America as concern for the kids that they teach.

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